Public teen librarians have been challenged by their school and academic counterparts to provide more information literacy, both in the professional literature and in their daily activities. This author believes, however, that there is more than one way to view and define information literacy. Public librarians should instruct their teen customers much more on information use, but do so on their own terms. This article is a direct response to "Information Literacy and the Role of the Public Libraries" by Annette Skov. (1) It will discuss different ways to perceive information literacy instruction, the traditional and evolving roles of public librarians, how information literacy instruction can be developed in public library settings, and ways that teen librarians can work with their school and academic counterparts.
Roles of Public Libraries
In one of the first issues of American Library Journal in 1876, Samuel Green proposed a brand-new library service that was later known as reference service. (2) According to him, the three purposes of this service were to provide information, to instruct in information use, and to guide people in more recreational reading. In the twentieth century, special libraries emerged to focus on the direct provision of information and became information centers. School and academic libraries emerged to provide information and to instruct patrons on how to find and use it. These libraries are considered information and educational centers. Only public libraries attempt to fulfill all three aspects--information, instruction, and guidance. Public libraries are community information centers, informal educational centers, and cultural centers. While public teen librarians should conduct much more instruction for their teen customers, they need to define for themselves how they will do this, considering their many other roles.
Public libraries are open in the evenings, weekends, and during the summer, when school media centers are closed.
They have always supplemented the work of teachers and school library media specialists by providing homework assistance for teens in addition to cultural programs that promote the love of reading. Teen librarians, in general, don't only serve teens; they also spend some of their day serving many people, from preschoolers to working adults to senior citizens. Any instructional initiatives that they undertake should be considered in the light of these things. This article will focus mainly on how public and school librarians can better instruct teens.
Public librarians always have instructed their patrons in information use. However, unlike their school and academic counterparts, most of their instruction has been informal, indirect, and often combined with reader's advisory services, bibliotherapy, programming, and other forms of guidance. It also has been very basic for the most part. Informal instruction often is given on an individual basis at the reference desk. Public librarians always have instructed indirectly and asynchronously through library design, signage, printed handbooks, bibliographies, and, more recently, Web sites.
Scandinavian and English-speaking countries were the first in the world to start tax-supported public libraries open to the public that circulated materials. In the United States, public libraries often were started to provide informal or non-formal education (NFE) to people of all ages, and they have served as "poor people's universities" in the past. For many years, public libraries also were de facto school libraries for schools that did not have media centers. Public librarians always have conducted tours and orientations, and some provided more formal and advanced instruction when requested. More recently, public librarians have been introducing computers to older patrons and many underprivileged library users. If they were not performing direct formal instruction very much before, they are doing it now! Public librarians may promote this activity with their usual cultural programming, but they are moving into formal information literacy. Some libraries that seem to be leading the way in information literacy instruction in public and similar settings, include major and medium-sized libraries, such as the New York Public Library, the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System, and the Providence Public Library; national library leaders, such as the Library of Congress; and the Washington State Library, which has created Librarysmart, an information literacy instruction program for public libraries in that state. (3)
Defining Information Literacy
How information literacy is defined is a very important issue. Some academic and school librarians define it very narrowly as the teaching of information searching skills. This author views information literacy in a much broader sense--as a department store with a basement, two or three floors open to the public, and a floor or two with offices. Library orientation and tours, as well as very basic computer instruction, would be in the basement and on the first floor. The windows and doors of this building would be composed of printed materials, such as handbooks and other guides, bibliographies and pathfinders, Web sites, Web quests (a coordinated collection of Web sites designed to teach people how to find information on a topic), and other information on the Internet and the computer. Signage and point-of-use instruction, whether printed or electronic, is something that should be on all public floors.
The second and third floors would represent the more formal, detailed, and advanced information literacy instruction that has been stressed mainly by academic and school librarians. This would incorporate instruction on how to determine information needs and then find, evaluate, and use information. The fourth and possibly fifth floors would represent an area invisible to the public--the administrative services that would plan, coordinate, support, and evaluate everything on the other floors.
Although all of these aspects to information literacy are important, many public library users never get beyond the basement, the first floor, the doors, and the windows. Tours, orientations, basic computer instruction, point-of-use instruction, and signage may be the only instruction that customers ever get.
It is possible to do advanced instruction without the basics, which provide the public with the lay of the land, but this is not advisable. It is generally difficult to get to a second floor without going through at least part of a first floor. Tours, orientations, basic computer instruction, signage, and point-of-use instruction can at least help to lay the groundwork for more advanced instruction later. None of this is trivial. Although some buildings are built on stilts, as a rule, a large public building such as a department store would not be constructed without the foundation of a basement and a first floor.
Public Youth Librarians and Other Librarians
In her article, "Information Literacy and the Role of Public Libraries," Annette Skov describes several examples of public librarians working with schools to promote information literacy. (4) This guide was developed by librarians and educators in Tranbjerg, Denmark, and is something that can be easily replicated in a variety of settings. The Herning County project that combines information literacy instruction with students' own academic and personal interests is very intriguing. Public librarians cooperate with local schools to plan several activities, such as thematic courses on searching and workshops on evaluating Internet resources. It would certainly tap into the voluntary nature of public library use by teens.
Most thought-provoking is the joint venture between the Otterup Public Library and the Nordlyns Gymnasium, where a public librarian spent twenty-seven hours a week conducting instruction in a secondary school. Public teen librarians work with teachers to teach information literacy skills to students and faculty, to develop a gateway to electronic resources, to encourage students to reflect on their research methods, and to encourage more cooperation between librarians and teachers. A program such as this may be workable for schools with no media centers or media specialists, but staffing and other considerations in public libraries and local schools would have to be carefully worked out. For instance, would a dedicated staff of one to two teen librarians from a public library system be available for this throughout the school year, or would all teen librarians be doing this during some months when many teachers are assigning term papers and projects? The fact that public libraries are open longer hours and year-round should be considered. The time teen librarians spend on conducting cultural programs, summer reading programs, and other outreach efforts also should be factored in.
However, a program such as this could be successful if teen librarians committed to it on even a more limited, but consistent, basis; it would help to resolve many issues teen librarians contend with as they work with teachers and school library media specialists. For instance, public librarians could become much more aware of upcoming assignments and be better prepared to help teens with them. They can reserve books that they know will be in high demand, and plan reference interviews that will encourage students to think through their research strategies. Teen librarians also can use their visits to the schools to let school library media specialists, teachers, and students know what public libraries offer for them. As a result, teen librarians would be much more visible in the schools and this could greatly improve communication between these institutions. An intensive program such as this would definitely supplement, if not supplant, assignment alert packets that some public libraries already distribute to teachers to encourage them to notify librarians of upcoming assignments and to bring their classes to the library. It also would supplement traditional classroom visits that teen librarians already may make to schools.
Some public libraries have created information literacy instruction and other outreach activities, specifically to reach public school teachers. Both the Providence (R.I.) Public Library and the Multnomah County (Ore.) Public Library offer teachers' cards, professional collections, bulk loans, presentations for teachers, and invitations for classes to visit public libraries. (5) Providence Public Library loans reading and mathematic kits to teachers and parents, and it offers a book cafe where teachers and librarians can discuss great children's literature with each other monthly. Multnomah County Public Library offers regular workshops for teachers on new books covering many topics that can be used in their classrooms. Its program is really a full-fledged information literacy instruction program for teachers that also includes booklists, Web sites, and customized webliographies and pathfinders to go with Bucket of Books, their bulk loan program; a newsletter; library orientation sessions especially for teachers; a library card campaign for elementary students; and evaluation forms for all of their activities that are accessible from their Web site.
Many public libraries and their branches work with not one school, but several, and the schools may cover a range of grade levels. Schools also may be public, private, or parochial, and teen librarians also work with those who home school their children. Public librarians could get to know and work with their counterparts in all of the schools in their area by targeting students in specific grades for more formal instruction.
That being said, teen librarians should not try to do everything that is the main responsibility of existing school library media specialists; but, they should definitely creatively supplement and support what school library media specialists already do. Although teen librarians cannot entirely compensate for schools that offer no instruction or very poor instruction, they can supplement and support their school counterparts in many ways.
It is important to remember that school library media centers vary widely in the quantity and quality of their own instruction. Quality can vary from state to state, both in terms of media specialist training and collections budgeting. Many school systems do intensive instruction at some levels (such as the elementary grades), but not others (such as high schools). Even the flexibility of a media specialist's schedule can affect the quality of his or her instruction. Those with flexible scheduling can network much more with teachers to plan instruction relevant to what is happening in the classroom. Lastly, school systems can change dramatically over time, depending on increases or decreases in their own budgets. This phenomenon can be observed in the school library media centers in California. (6)
All of these initiatives, however, do not have to be a one-way street. While public librarians should find out more about what is happening in schools and school media centers, school media specialists and teachers also should spend more time at public libraries to see what is happening there. Public library outreach and cultural programs supplement the work of school library media specialists in many ways. School and public librarians can help each other in their respective knowledge of their communities. Public librarians are usually experts on other agencies in the community and may have access to market studies and statistical information about their service areas. School systems keep excellent statistics on their students that can be very helpful to public librarians who are planning their own work.
In addition, teen librarians can contribute to the information literacy instruction field in general through their skilled use of marketing research techniques, outreach, and public relations. The same creativity that they show in creating traditional programs also can be applied to information literacy instruction, and they bring a very strong sense of mission to their diverse activities and initiatives.
Unlike Skov, this author believes that good library instruction prepares students to use most public libraries, but not necessarily academic libraries, very well. As students go to college, they face larger and more complex libraries, as well as different types of materials, such as microform, government information, and many scholarly indexes and databases. They also may face more demanding courses and often a different library classification system. In addition, college students usually go through several more stages in their intellectual and emotional development, and this also can affect how they look for and use information. While high-quality library instruction cannot totally prepare students for everything that they may encounter, it still is very important because it lays the foundation for what students will encounter at this stage. For all of these reasons, school, public, and academic librarians should work together to address many of these issues. For instance, public and school librarians can cooperate with each other in creating computer Web quests and electronic instructional pages that can be shared by all. Academic, school, and public librarians in a locality can cooperate to help secondary school students make the transition to public and academic libraries.
Information Literacy Instruction in Public Libraries
Public librarians can and should do more instruction, but on their own terms! They should feel free to be creative and to experiment with this in their own setting without having to duplicate or replicate school or academic libraries. They can do this by incorporating much more instruction into their written materials and on their Web sites, and by having programs on topics like financial planning, choosing a college, career preparation, business planning, or writing a term paper that can incorporate instruction. Printed or electronic pathfinders, instructional pages, or displays on these topics can also be created.
In planning instruction, teen librarians and their administrators should look first at the direct, indirect, formal, and informal instruction that they already do, then strive for a more well-coordinated set of services. They should consider where and how they can incorporate instruction into their other activities. At this time, teen librarians should concentrate on being creative and experimental in their approach to library instruction, while observing how their teens react to their efforts.
Teen librarians must consider several issues before they create goals for information literacy instruction. First, they should look at their own history and consider all of their goals for library service. They also should consider their library's mission or vision for addressing the informational, educational, and cultural needs of their communities. Each public library system should determine how much emphasis they will place on information, instruction, and cultural activities, and when and how the emphasis on each of these may shift over time. A major decision will be whether to promote instructional activities as a part of their normal cultural programming or to present this in a different way. The impact of information literacy instruction on everything else that public libraries do, especially cultural programming, also will need to be seriously considered.
Teen librarians may want to start with standards and guidelines already created by their counterparts elsewhere. They need to be familiar with standards created by both the Association for College and Research Libraries and the American Association of School Libraries. (7) The new Australian and New Zealand information literacy flame-work and the pivotal work of Christine Bruce can provide philosophical and theoretical frameworks. (8) Carole Kuhlthau's extensive research on how school children and teenagers do research and how they can be taught to do this more effectively have major implications for all public library information literacy instruction in the broadest sense. (9) The Big 6 program, which is widely used by school library media specialists, also can be used very well in public library settings. (10)
Teen librarians should indeed conduct more information literacy instruction, but this should be within the context of their own history, purposes, and environments. While the most effective instruction in school and academic libraries is often tied specifically to curricula, the most effective public library instruction is often tied to traditional programming, networking, and outreach. The potential of this powerful combination has barely been tapped.
(1.) Annette Skov, "Information Literacy and the Role of Public Libraries," Scandinavian Public Library Quarterly 37, no. 3: 4-7.
(2.) Samuel Swett Green," Personal Relations between Librarians and Readers," American Library Journal 1 (October 1876): 74-81.
(3.) New York Public Library, Science, Industry, and Business Library, "About SIBL Classses," www.nypl.org/research/sibl/ training (accessed Dec. 29, 2007); New York Public Library, Humanities and Social Sciences Library, "Celeste Bartos Education Center South Court," www. nypl.org/research/chss/southcourt (accessed Dec. 29, 2007); Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System, "Instructional Learning Center," www.af.public.lib. ga.us/instructional_learning_center.html (accessed Dec. 29, 2007); Providence Public Library, "Events and Programs," www.provlib.org/happening/events/ default.html (accessed Dec. 29, 2007); Library of Congress, "Information For Researchers--Using the Library of Congress," www.loc.gov/rr/main/inforeas/ orient.html (accessed Dec. 29, 2007); Library of Congress, "Researchers: Reference Tools and Services," www.loc.gov/ rr (accessed Dec. 29, 2007); Washington State Library, "Libraries: When You Really Need to Know," www.librarysmart. corn/working/home.asp (accessed Dec. 29, 2007).
(4.) Skov," Information Literacy and the Role of Public Libraries"
(5.) Providence Public Library, "Parents and Teachers," www.provlib.org/happening/ parentsandteachers/default.html (accessed Dec. 29, 2007); Multnomah County Library," School Corps," www.multcolib. org/schoolcorps (accessed Jan. 11, 2008); Multnomah County Library," School Corps," www.multcolib.org/educators/ index.html (accessed Dec. 29, 2007).
(6.) Michael Gorman, "The Indispensability of School Libraries and School Librarians," American Libraries 36, no. 9 (Oct. 2005): 5.
(7.) Association of College and Research Libraries, "Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education" www.ala.org/ala/acrl/acrlstandards/ informationliteracycompetency.cfm (accessed Dec. 29, 2007); American Association of School Librarians, Standards For the 21st Century Learner, www.ala.org/ ala/aasl/aaslproftools/learningstandards/ AALS_Learning_Standards_2007.pdf (accessed Jan. 11, 2008).
(8.) Australian and New Zealand Institute for Information Literacy, Australian and New Zealand Information Literacy Frame work: Principles, Standards and Practice (Adelaide: ANZIIL, 2004): available at www.anziil.org/resources/Info%20 lit%202nd%20edition.pdf (accessed Jan. 11, 2008); Christine Bruce, Seven Faces of Information Literacy (Adelaide: AUSLIB Pr., 1997).
(9.) Carole C. Kuhlthau, Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services (Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited, 2004).
(10.) Michael Eisenberg, "The Big 6.: Information Literacy for the Information Age," www.big6.com (accessed Dec. 29, 2007).
DR. DONNA L. GILTON is Professor of Library Science at the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies, University of Rhode Island, Kingston. She has done instruction in public and academic libraries. Giiton teaches a course on information literacy called Teaching about Information and has created a Web site with the same name (www.uri.edu/artsci/lsc/Faculty/gilton/index.htmt).…